Five Questions with Richard Aboulafia

Richard Aboulafia generously offered his time to be the subject of the first installment of a new series here at Flightblogger. This series will pose five questions to major aviation industry players to provide a unique view of global air transport.

Aboulafia currently serves as Vice-President of Analysis at the Teal Group Corporation. He is a highly respected member of the aviation industry and his commentary and analysis has appeared in far too many prestigious places to list here. In addition he is a graduate of my alma mater, The George Washington University, and holds a Masters degree in War Studies from King’s College, University of London. Aboulafia’s complete biography is available on his website.

Q: What do you think the biggest challenge Boeing faces moving forward with the 787?

A: I think the biggest challenge will be managing the 787 supply chain. It isn’t just the huge scope of responsibility entrusted to partners, it’s also the unprecedented production numbers. Higher resource prices will only worsen this potential problem.

Q: How should Boeing respond to the A350-1000? Stretch the 787-10 to 350 seats or upgrade the 777-300ER?

A: There’s a lot we don’t know about the A350. Any further design changes could greatly affect its competitiveness, probably for the better. That metal skeleton might either go away, or be replaced by a composite skeleton. But even with the current A350 design, the -1000 looks like a very respectable player, and Boeing should take it seriously as a competitive threat.

I think Qantas, and perhaps others, are expecting too much from a 787-10. One thing that makes the 787 a great design is that it is optimized for its current range/payload. The price for this optimization is limited growth potential. While a 300-seat 787-10 looks very promising, I think Boeing will introduce an all-new or major derivative 350-400 seat aircraft to replace the 777-300ER, probably around 2017. Given Boeing’s likely revenue and profit over the next ten years, there are no financial restraints on Boeing’s competitive response.

Q: Will the 737/A320 replacement battle involve only Airbus and Boeing? Or do you think China, Japan, Canada, Brazil will make offerings?

A: I don’t think any of these players are in a position to launch a sucessful new narrowbody. Technically, there are few obstacles, but raising the money, getting the product right, selling it, and supporting it are huge challenges. But these players, especially Brazil, might well play a crucial partnership role in making the new Airbus and Boeing narrowbodies happen.

Q: What do you think aviation headlines will look like in 2017?

A: Top Five Headlines in 2017:
“Airbus Board Resolves Dubai-Abu Dhabi Ownership Spat”
“Aeroflot Begins Serving US Domestic Market; Southwest Braces For Competition” “Bombardier Continues CSeries Studies; Launch Possible In 2018″
“Vern Raburn: ‘Mistakes Were Made’”
“2017: Year Of The Very Light Jet”

Q: Is there anything thing you wish the industry was talking about that you believe is being ignored right now?

A: I think there are two important long-term trends affecting this industry that the media isn’t giving adequate attention. The first is manufacturing globalization, which has made the very idea of a national industry or a national aircraft completely irrelevant. The second is the growing financial power of the oil-rich countries, particularly the Gulf states and Russia. Their government and private capital will transform the world’s airline industries, and probably some of the manufacturing business too.

3 Responses to Five Questions with Richard Aboulafia

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